Thursday, November 5, 2009

Are you called?

I'm at a conference in Atlanta put on by The Fund for Theological Education through their "Calling Congregations" program. We're test running a process and a curriculum for helping congregations recenter themselves on the notion of "call"--what are we (individuals, communities, etc) called to do, and better yet, who are we called to be?

The basic premise is to foster the practice of story telling (and story listening) along with the asking of questions. This happens by first creating a space in which this can happen, and then by forming a community in that space that can evoke, pull out, and engage the deep life questions we are all asking (even if not out loud). FTE hopes that by helping our congregations get better at this practice (spiritual practice, really) that we will be better at helping our young people figure out how they are called. It emerged for them out of the recognition that there is a shortage of young people following calls to ordained ministry, but they realized that the problem was deeper than that--and that the way to get at the root questions was to help foster communities in which young people especially, but also the whole intergenerational range of folks, could explore, ponder, and discern callings in the world. As one of the facilitators has said, if the Church is not doing this work, what the heck are we doing? I tend to agree.

Pastor types talk a lot about "call" about the "call to ministry" or whatever. As part of my preparation to be a pastor I had to reflect at length (ad naseum) about "vocation," about my own sense of call, where it came from, what I think it meant, and what God had to do with it. People asked me repeatedly about how, where, when, and why I felt called. My seminary professors, a board of people from my synod, and finally the congregation which I'm serving all had to hear my sense of how God was calling me to ordained ministry, and say "Yep, we think this guy is called to be a pastor too." In my ordination I said out loud that I would consider the call of the church the call of God and do my best to live fully into that calling. Call, call, call. I'm steeped in it. And I believe that all of us are called to something, or many somethings.

But I wonder, do the rest of us (non clergy folk) think much about call? What does the word "call" or "vocation" used in this way even mean to you? Do you all out in the real world think about the things that you are up to as callings? And if you do, do you think of them as callings from God? How is your calling connected to, or separate from, the work you do? And, do we ever actually talk about this other than in the context of people who think they are called to be pastors? Would it help if we talked about this sort of thing more?

And (in the spirit of this conference I'm at) do you have a 2 minute story that illustrates how (or why, or when) you feel called? If you do, feel free to share it in the comments--and ask questions about one another's stories too if you are curious or want to know more.


  1. I love this entry! Not that I'm blog-stalking you or anything. *grin*

    I knew I was called to do God's work when I was maybe 5 or 6. One day in mass, I decided that I was going to be the first Catholic Priestess- that the Pope would make an exception for me because he would see the amazing things God wanted to use me for. *chuckle*

    That dream being squashed early on, I used my talent for music and art to help bring others closer to God, and the faith communities I participated in were so supportive! I sang, gave homilies at mass- even Christmas mass one year, and I loved it! The confirmation retreats were where I really learned the power and intensity of meditation and prayer.

    My real call to the Spirit didn't happen until the summer before I got to PLU. In France on choir tour, I was brought to my knees, soul-wretching, weeping for reasons unknown to me, I just felt so much pain and loss. Come to find out it was the same day a close family friend died. After that portal, that connection opened, it hasn't stopped. I've had a few visions, and many, MANY times when I've known people need prayer before they even know they need prayer.

    This connection to the Spirit is very humbling and amazing at the same time, and it often terrifies me! Who am I, a not-so-perfect sinner trying to follow a Christian life style, to be someone's direct connection to the "Prayer Network"?!

    I am working every day to embrace this gift- that sometimes feels like a curse- and post the steps of my journey to share with others, hoping that my story helps bring someone else closer in their relationship with God.

  2. may be back with a story later, but right now my thought is tangentially related. WAs on a more conservative blog this a.m., a comment about women's ordination struck me. The blog was the letter asking the assembly NOT to make these changes. And in the comments were notes re: how women's ordination was the slippery slope, and one woman said it's not about women's ability, since her mother has a phd, and doesn't think women can be pastors. her words: 'Women are not ontologically capable of receiving a call.'

    so, there you go.

  3. Part I:

    As a young man from a thoroughly Scandinavian and thoroughly Lutheran family, I arrived at college with notions of vocation measured against Luther’s dramatic turn to the priesthood. Making the proper and vocational choice rested upon finding God’s “plan” by matching “gifts” (personal talents or characteristics) identified as valuable by authorities (such as family, school, church, and country) with goals that had been validated by these same authorities.

    Although I had also been taught, as Luther also wrote, one might be called as a shoemaker or peasant, I didn’t come to college hoping to be either. But the question of what I was called to do (occupationally) still loomed. Like many, I think, I presupposed that my vocation ought to have moral primacy (i.e., it should take precedent over the “rest” of one’s life), centrality (i.e., it would become the core around which the “rest” of one’s life evolved), and be financially sufficient if unrewarding. But I was confident that, if chosen properly, my vocation would put all else on its proper God-determined track and allow me to leave one’s own proper mark on a bettered world.

    The late 60s and 70s provided models to emulate Luther’s role to “serve” traditional authorities by reforming and restoring them to their proper role. Our age values those who effect change (could we really imagine being “called to conform” except to a model of Christ as an iconoclast or reformer?) and I wanted to bring about change in, of course, the “right” direction. The tumultuous changes in American politics, the Cold War, and American religion seemed to provide many opportunities. I toyed briefly with the idea of going into the military (Naval Academy), and throughout college with different aspects of Christian ministry.

    In retrospect, these initial career considerations were a response to a deep anxiety to serve properly (after all, who can question a soldier’s or a minister’s service?) and to make one’s mark by bringing about changes that—although not seen as “service” by some authorities—would come to be recognized as such by the new tradition established by the changes I would help to bring about. I finally enrolled in Seminex, which seemed to be a seminary that bridged the gap for someone who hoped to be both a grounded traditionalist and rebel reformist. It seemed a noble choice.

    Nevertheless, life led me away from that path. Nothing was as simple as I though it was. I didn’t have the strength or the conviction that I thought I had. Just recognizing that others didn’t have the answers didn’t mean that I had them. Doing right thing for the wrong reasons wasn’t much better, in the end, than doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. But I became strong enough for ambiguity, to not to be right, and secure enough to be unsure. And I learned that I was better at helping people find and explore questions for themselves than I was at providing them with my own or someone else’s answers. I lost my way, and somehow found myself.

    I also came to a different understanding of vocation. Vocation, as I see it now, originates in the passions and with what compels, engages, and interests us deeply toward the ends of living authentically and with a deep sense of satisfaction, both as a human being and also as one’s self. It can range from saving the world to loving one person well. It is the subtle and complex phenomenon of a life emerging in its best balance.

  4. I've been thinking about this since reading this on Facebook after it was copied over.

    "Call" has too many layers and levels to be answered quickly.

    I am called to live and act as a Christian, whether or not I ever receive the laying on of hands for anything more than confirmation.

    On my Facebook page, I entered into a discussion with someone about schism in the church over current theological issues. The other person, while not saying there should be a schism, was quite willing to have it happen. Personally, I am taken aback at the thought of being the agent for schism, because schism is worse than apostasy.

    The other person keep talking about actions of those with whom he disagreed. I kept talking about my actions, pointing out I am called to be faithful, not successful.

    Yes, I used the word "called" in my response.

    Meanwhile, about a call to be a lay person or ordained. It must be recognized in the community, whatever it is. We are called to live in the community of the Church; we don't live it alone.

  5. Though I'm a pastor, I smiled to think of the call to creativity that I've played with throughout my life. In high school and college I took pottery classes, but never thought myself very good. I always wanted to do it again, dreamed of living in a cabin with a kiln, but couldn't afford the classes. Now for the last yr I've been at it and I've fallen in love. This certainly feels like a call. And I resist it needing some practical purpose. I'm drawn to it. It gives me life.